Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hitching a Ride

Sometimes I'll ride my bike to work on a Friday, but because I don't like to ride 26 miles in one day, I'll leave it there instead of riding it back home. When that happens, I often drive to the office the next day and bring my bike home on my trunk! Back in the spring I picked up a trunk mount rack from Amazon, and it's proved mighty handy when I just Can't Be Bothered to ride back. Here it is!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter Riding

I fully planned to ride my bike to work throughout the winter months, cold be damned! But a quick check of my log shows that I only rode 34 miles in the entire month of November – and the worst part is I went over three weeks between rides. In fairness, I was sick for much of that, and I had a bunch of evening commitments, making logistics difficult. But it was still disheartening (and, sadly, fattening).

I'm doing a lot better this month. With almost half the month complete, I have ridden close to 50 miles. It's not nearly as momentous as what I achieved during the summer, but then, I didn't have to bundle up with five layers and toe warmers during the summer! This morning I rode 13 miles to work -- impressive considering I'd left both pairs of gloves at the office. What did I do? I wore socks on my hands. Not the most stylish, but it worked in a pinch.

It had been a week since I last went riding. I really wanted to go sooner, but my Bionx crapped out on me, and it turns out riding to work without it is not nearly as fun. I can do it, sure, but it takes about 20 minutes longer. And that "quick" 4 mile jaunt from work to rehearsal at the church? It takes a lot longer than 20 minutes when you have to manually power up a 5% incline for at least half a mile! It's hills like that that really make me miss my pedal-assist.

Luckily, my dealer dropped off a spare system while mine is in the shop. He is without a doubt the best shop-owner I have ever dealt with, installing the entire system for free, and then making two housecalls to help with problems I was having. I'm a 45 minute drive from his shop! And he didn't have to give me a loaner system while he tries to fix my faulty battery. He's a real class act and I heartily encourage anyone who's thinking of the Bionx or any other electric system to head down to Green Pedals in Annapolis, MD.

I can't ride tomorrow because I've got an early conference to attend and then a swanky formal dinner at night. But Friday evening I shall brave the dark and cold!

Here's a picture of me this morning:

Under 40 degrees. I wore an under armour base layer,
T-shirt, fleece, Pearl Izumi shell, balaclava!
Also toe warmers.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Healthy Treats

In an attempt to update my blog more than once every three months, I'm going to start posting more pictures, and telling brief tales of exciting adventures that I may have had. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just making all of these adventures up. Regardless, enjoy.

Today's Healthy Shopping Trip

Never go to the grocery store hungry, they say. So I didn't -- and it was amazing. I had no cravings, no desire to buy BAD food, and so I ended up with this!

I put my bounty into shopping bags, and brought them home - somewhat precariously - on my handlebars. [NOTE TO READERS: Do not do this. It makes the bike hard to control.]

So today was a good day, with 13 miles of biking and a healthy trip to the supermarket. At this point I've got the cardio-as-a-routine thing down; I just have to work on making healthy eating choices.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Captain's Log

It's been about two and half months, and usually when I am silent for so long it means that I have fallen off the wagon. I am very happy to say that is not the case. You see, instead of writing about exercising, I have actually been doing it.

When my focus was running, I used to have to psych myself up for the endeavor. I am not a natural runner. My calves tighten up, I get incredibly tired and sore, and even the best experiences are akin to the joy one feels from successfully preparing vegetables. So blogging was a way to give myself a little pep talk.

I don't need a pep talk anymore! I really love biking, especially with the little push that I get from having the Bionx. It never sucks. Let me repeat that: it never sucks. (Unless, for instance, I forget to bring the Bionx controller and so I have to bike uphill with an additional 20 pounds in battery and motor weight. But even then it doesn't suck nearly as much as running used to suck.)

So I have not been writing, but I have been biking. Here are my logs to prove it:

Ele. Gain
September 2012
127.1 mi
+5,710 ft
August 2012
142.0 mi
+4,974 ft
July 2012
212.0 mi
+9,933 ft
June 2012
178.5 mi
+8,652 ft

Although my mileage has been lower recently than it was when I started, I chalk most of that up to being extra busy at work -- morning press conferences mean I don't get to ride my bike in to work as often as I'd like. (There was also a bikeless vacation in the beginning of September, a bit of under-the-weather, and some relationship drama sucking up much of my time.) But I've still managed to average over 30 miles a week this month - and the month isn't over yet! I expect to do another 13 miles or so tomorrow, bringing the total in line with August. And I have no intentions of stopping.


That said, I feel somewhat guilty about not posting recently, because I do have an awfully high number of (mis)adventures on my two wheels. So let me now briefly highlight what you might have missed:

Downed trees blocked the Capital Crescent Trail!
I got stung by a bee at 20 mph!
Another ride to Old Town Alexandria turned into a
late night ride past the beautiful Lincoln Memorial!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Camouflaging the Bionx

As anyone who has seen a Bionx frame-mounted battery knows, it sticks out like a sore thumb. This is good for sparking conversations, but not so good for leaving the bike outside for any length of time -- I just can't shake the feeling that that big "Bionx!" logo looks really tempting to thieves, even if they don't know what it is. Plus the font doesn't look very high-tech; it's more reminiscent of something you'd see in an old magazine ad from the 1980s.

I looked for bags that might hide the battery, but I wasn't having much luck. I was about to head to the store for some spray paint and rags when I stumbled upon an easier solution: duct tape! I know, I know, it sounds horribly low budget, and it is, but if you use colors that blend well with your frame, it actually works out really well. I chose two colors - "olive drab" (which is actually much darker than it looked online), and a "digital camo" style for trim. A bit of cutting with a utility knife, and I'm very happy with the results:



Thursday, July 12, 2012


After an easy ride to work this morning along the CCT, I decided to take a different route home. Rock Creek Park is very different on a weekday, when Beach Drive is open to traffic, and you're pumping as hard as you can on the uphill, heart rate over 170 for 1.5 miles (peaking at 178), acutely aware that there's a long line of cars behind you with no room to pass on this winding road with the double yellow line. Exhilarating... but holy crap, I haven't kept my pulse that high for that long in years. This is a "once a week" route at most.

PS - I passed the 500-mile mark today! I'm averaging around 200 miles per month. I wonder if I'll keep this up when it gets cold out?

Counting Calories

I let myself get hungry Tuesday. I didn't eat throughout the day. I had low blood sugar, and a headache, and cravings. Major cravings. Never order delivery while you have cravings. And never eat the whole thing before you have a chance to stop and breathe and ask yourself what the f@#$ you are doing.

Anyway, when I am bad, I like to get back on track by meticulously planning my caloric intake and expenditure. I thought you'd like to see the kind of plan I make. I've been making charts like this for the past several years and they usually get me back on track... or at least back in the right direction. You'll notice I don't deprive myself of the things I really like (e.g. Potbelly wreck sandwiches, chips, etc); I just make sure I account for it, and don't eat like that all day.

By evenly spacing out my meals every few hours, I ensure I never get cravings. And that's good. Because my cravings are stronger than me. I know from years of experience. The only way I can beat them is to make sure they never get anywhere near me. I'm like the Secret Service! (Yes, this means my belly is the President.)

This projected deficit will lead to a couple pounds of weight loss per week.
I don't always ride my bike twice a day, but when I do it really adds up.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What I Can Weigh if I Put Down the Government Cheese

The National Institute of Health has put together a really cool body weight simulator that takes your height, weight, calorie intake and level of activity, and then estimates your change in weight if you change the inputs. I entered in my stats a little over a month ago, and so far the projection is right on schedule.

Below is a projected one-year graph showing what my weight could be if, for the first three months, I gradually reduce my calorie intake to 2,500 per day and increase my exercise to bike an hour about 4 times a week; and then, for the second three months, I increase my calorie intake to 3,000 per day and throw in a 2-hour bike ride on weekends.

When I input my numbers on May 15, I was 214 pounds. As of this morning I was 210.8 pounds, and that's right about on schedule. If I stay on course -- and the NIH is right -- I should hit 200 in the first week of August, hit 190 by mid-September, 185 around my birthday in late October, and 180 by the beginning of February 2013. And if I keep biking and not pigging out, the gubmint thinks I'll level out somewhere around 175!

Frankly I'd be happy with 190, and 180 would be amazing. That's my Fightin' Weight, and I haven't been there in nearly 10 years. I'll keep checking my progress against the graph to see if those government bean counters actually know what they're talking about.

Pretty cool! Input your own numbers at

•     •     •

In other news, I rode over 82 miles this week! It's my longest distance ever! Note, however, that it's not my longest TimeOnBike ever -- I was on the bike for over 6 hours (74 miles) the week last month when I rode to Old Town and back.  The Bionx lets me go a little faster, so perhaps MilesOnBike is not the best metric. How about DaysOnBike? (5). CaloriesBurned? (4,360).  Either way, I'll take it.  :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Cheat with the Bionx

I made a big show last week about how the Bionx is not cheating. Having used it with various assist levels for about 80 miles now, I would like to clarify:

You can TOTALLY cheat on the Bionx, if you want to.  I've done it.  You see, in addition to the 4 levels of assist - which provide a torque boost of between 35% and 300% -- there is a little red button called the throttle. Press this, and the bike zips along at up to 20 mph without the need for any pedaling.

When I first got the Bionx, I wanted to really push the system and see how much assistance was possible. I donned my heart rate monitor, put on my work clothes, and endeavored to get to work with as little perspiration as possible.  Along the way, I kept my finger on the throttle button pretty much the whole way, pedaling (on the highest assist level) perhaps 5-10% of the time.

It normally takes me almost an hour to bike the 13 miles to work, with an average heart rate of around 140.  This time it took 45 minutes. My average heart rate was 87 -- I didn't even get into "Zone 1". And I felt like a total schmuck.

For all my big talk about not cheating, holding the throttle most of the way TOTALLY feels like cheating. I didn't break a sweat! I was a lazy bum on my commuter bike and I didn't get a workout at all!

The entire Asian world sees biking mainly as a mode of transportation. There are 100 million e-bikes in China! But we Americans tend to always equate bikes with exercising, and we have this ingrained belief that if we don't sweat, it's cheating. Intellectually, I know this is silly. Biking doesn't HAVE to be exercising, and throttling to work is not "cheating" because there are no rules. I just want to get to work.

I know this. I have argued this. But even I don't really, truly believe it. I don't know if this is a testament to the power of cultural bias or what, but when I'm using my bike as a moped and getting to work without sweat, I don't feel good or smug or anything like that. I feel like an asshole.

So I will endeavor to NOT just keep my thumb on the throttle. It is totally possible to get a great workout in with the Bionx, and in fact on Saturday I did just that: a 30 mile ride in 90 degree weather, with an average heart rate of 150 over two hours! For the flats and downhills, I kept the assist on the bare minimum and hardly ever throttled, and only turned the assist up on the inclines of over 2% or so. And even with that assist, when the incline got close to 5%, I got a real workout – my max HR was 173! The only difference between hills with assist and hills without assist is that I can actually DO the hills with assist, as opposed to getting off and pushing (which is what I used to do).

And it’s still really nice to know that even when it’s hot and I’ve been riding for hours and the only way home is 7 miles uphill, it will never suck. It will always be fun, and invigorating, and in many ways, kind of magical. Here are some pictures from Saturday's ride:

Iwo Jima Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Gay Pride Parade in Dupont Circle

Monday, June 04, 2012

Why the Bionx Pedal-Assist is Not Cheating

This weekend I installed a Bionx PL-350 system on my trusty Trek 7100. It was a hefty investment, but it's worth it because now I can ride anywhere in the city, sweating as much or as little as I want, hills be damned! Why, just yesterday I rode to the National Shrine, to a cafe, and back home - 16 miles of undulating hills that, unassisted, would have killed me and left me exhausted. But with the Bionx on a high level of assist, I rode to church in my Sunday best without getting sweaty, and afterward I turned the assist down and got a pretty solid workout coming home. I was exhilarated and dripping with perspiration by the time I got home, but I wasn't WIPED OUT, like I would have been normally. The Bionx gives me the freedom to ride where I otherwise wouldn't. Without assist, I would not have attempted Sunday's ride; I simply would have driven.

When people find out I bought an electric pedal assist for my bike, there are two common responses.

Average Joe: Cool! I've heard about those. Sounds fun.
Cyclist: THAT'S CHEATING. You're such a cheater, Mister Cheater.

My standard response to Average Joe is "Yeah, it is fun! Really helps with the hills." We both walk away smiling and I am left with the thought that there are lots of friendly people in this world.

Then comes the Cyclist. He is usually very skinny, owns thousands of dollars in Lycra and Spandex, and has a 15-pound bike made of carbon fiber infused with Borg nanobots. And he is looking at me with derision I have previously only seen directed at people who stand to the left on the Metro escalators.

To the Cyclist, biking and sweating are synonymous. He enjoys nothing more than the long haul, dripping, drenched, standing on the pedals and pumping harder. The downhill is your reward for making it uphill. Hills build character. Stop whining. Cheater.

I have developed a few responses to this particular breed of judgmental creature. Each responses satisfies me, but is very unlikely to satisfy the Cyclist.

Cyclist: That's cheating.
Me: ...I wasn't aware there were rules?

I thought this sort of rhetorical response would make them pause and think and realize that, of course, outside of a race, biking has no rules. Cheating is by definition impossible without rules to break. I expected smiles all around, the Cyclist perhaps asking if he could try my Bionx, and then maybe we would all go out for drinks and we would sing drinking songs about our glorious rides past.

Yes, I live in a fantasy land.

Cyclist: Of course there are rules. You have to pedal.
Me: I do pedal! I just use assist on the hills so I can get up them.
Cyclist: Just shift to a lower gear. Hills will get easier.
Me: I have used the granny gears. I don't particularly like getting up a hill at 4 mph and still feeling totally burned out at the top. I don't see what the big deal is?
Cyclist (look of disgust): YOU'RE CHEATING.

So, given that the Cyclist abhors cheaters, and likes to do everything the old fashioned way, with sweat and tears and sore muscles, I change my approach.

Cyclist: That's cheating.
Me: How heavy is your bike?
Cyclist: About 20 pounds.
Me: That's cheating! Mine is 33!
Cyclist: Whatever, I'm still pedaling.
Me: I'm pedaling too. Do you have a road bike?
Cyclist: Of course.
Me: That's cheating! Your tires are so skinny! It's so much easier to go fast on your bike. I have a hybrid!
Cyclist: I'm still pedaling.
Me: So am I. Do you use wicking fabric?
Cyclist: ...yes.
Me: That's cheating! I ride around in a cotton shirt! You're giving yourself all these advantages!
Cyclist: Whatever, I'm still pedaling. Cheater. You are the lowest of the low. Get off my path.

Apparently, every advantage in the book - feather-light materials, skinny tires, racing geometry - why that's just part of the sport! But a pedal-assist on hills? Cheating!

There is nothing one can say to calm the haters. So most times I don't even try. I just smile, bow to their "superior" stamina and character, and let them zoom away. And then I get on my bike and dial in the exact level of assistance that will let me achieve whatever goal I have at the moment. Do I want to get to work in a hurry yet not have to take a shower when I get there? Push the assist up to maximum and make heavy use of the Throttle button. Do I want to get a great workout on the way home? Keep assist on level 0 (nothing), or 1 (equivalent to a nice tailwind), and power up those hills.

That's not cheating. That's smart.

Friday, June 01, 2012

On Hills

I want to talk about hills.

It turns out I have been doing them all wrong.

There’s this major hill by my house, and it’s great because the long 4.6% decline on the way to work gets me up to over 25 mph and is super awesome. It’s a great way to start the day and make my way the 13 miles to work.

Perceptive readers already know what’s coming next: Returning home is murderous. I have never been able to get all the way back up the 4.6% incline without getting off and pushing. Even on the walk-and-push section, my pulse approaches 170 and it Ruins My Day.

I love riding my bike on the flats, and on the declines, and even on the slight inclines. But over 4 percent is just too much for me – or so I thought. After extensive research on The bike forum on the Internet, I realized I’m probably in too high a gear. Apparently that’s a common problem for beginners – we think we need to pedal hard to get up a hill. That’s only partially right. What’s more important is pedaling fast – in a lower gear.

Could I make it up the giant hill that had always bested me? It was time to find out. This massive hill comes after a deep valley of sorts, so there’s always a steep downhill portion that precedes it. On the downhill, I pumped as hard as I could in my highest gear, trying to build enough momentum to take me mostly up the other side.

Gravity soon began to slow me, and I turned the left handlebar gear to “1” and began spinning.  My right handlebar gear was on 7… too hard… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2…

Gah! Chain is not staying! Something’s going wrong! Bike is trying to shift but can’t!

Okay, turn it back to 1-3. Chain is secure. I can do this. Spin spin spin.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever, I actually made it all the way up that hill without getting off to push. My pulse was 160 and I was going less than six miles an hour and it SUCKED, but I was doing it. After riding at speeds averaging around 7 mph for the next tenth of a mile, I made it over the top, and from then on out, things got better. I hit 25 mph on the next 4 percent decline, and it was awesome.

But a half mile later, I still couldn’t ride through my apartment complex parking lot to my building at the back – which is, of course, at the top of another massive hill. I was just too tired.

In conclusion! Three truths:

  1. I can do hills with a 4 percent incline if I shift to the granny gears. I just have to resign myself to going 6 mph.
  2. Just because I can do them doesn’t mean I have to like it. Hills SUCK even if I am in the granny gears. And I’m pretty much done for the day after a hill that’s just a couple blocks long.
  3. The Bionx is looking more and more tempting each day…

Have I foreshadowed enough?

Join us next time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh yeah, I rode 40 miles

So I have already saturated all my other online media outlets with this news, live-tweeting at five-mile intervals, uploading pictures on my journey, and generally delighting in my accomplishment for several hours and days afterward... but I forgot to mention it here. And I really think I should, since this is, after all, my Fitness Blog of Record:

I rode my bike 40 miles!

This was about 10 days ago, on a Saturday, when I had grown accustomed to my regular 13 mile commute to work, and I wanted more of a challenge. So on a warm and humid weekend morning, I strapped up my heart rate monitor, filled my water bottles, and headed out on the two-trail 20 mile journey from Silver Spring to Old Town.

The ride out took a little over 90 minutes, and entailed taking the Capital Crescent Trail (my daily trail) 12 miles from Silver Spring to Georgetown, then crossing the Key Bridge over the Potomac, and taking the Mt. Vernon Trail the remaining 8 miles to Old Town.

The ride out was thrilling. I'm pretty good at the Crescent trail since I ride it all the time, so that was no problem. After a few minutes of quizzical searching - as I had forgotten to map out exactly how to get from the sea-level trail to the 100-foot-level Key Bridge - I found a roundabout street path that led me there. The next 8 miles were a nice little bit of reminiscing, as I used to ride the Mt. Vernon Trail to get to my old job in Crystal City about 4 years ago.

The Mt. Vernon Trail is mostly flat, so it was an easy 8 miles... I will admit to passing a fair number of people and bikers on the way, as its posted "10 mph" speed limit is utterly ridiculous for a flat trail. On the way there were beautiful views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, and kayakers enjoying the water.

I felt great until about mile 17, at which point I began to feel a little winded. Fortunately, Old Town was just a few miles ahead of me, and so I soldiered on. After another 15 minutes, I made it!

A friend said this looks like a magazine cover :-)

Having gotten to Old Town, I realized something rather pressing. I had no idea what to do next.

There were definitely a good dozen dead flies on each arm.

I walked my bike around for a while, and eventually settled on Thai food. It was delicious.

I was so proud, I Skyped my parents to tell them all about Matt's Big Adventure!

"You're riding too much! You'll hurt your knees!" --Mom

Fully satiated, it was time to head back. I knew the trip back would not be as pleasant as the trip out, but I didn't realize it was also going to be 10 degrees hotter (mid-80s) and that I would be totally exhausted. It turns out 20 miles is a great distance for me. FORTY miles is insane, at least at my current level of fitness.

It didn't help that the last 10 miles are mostly uphill. After around cumulative mile 31, it was a matter of sheer will to get back home. Luckily I was still surrounded by the beauty of nature, so it wasn't all bad.

When I arrived, I wiped all the dead bugs off my sun-block covered arms, and collapsed on the floor in a heap.  It took about 3 days to recover, but I found that the next time I got on the bike to ride my normal 13 miles to work, everything felt about 20 percent easier. It was incredible! I felt so much stronger! I can't wait to do a long trip again. :-)

I passed 200 miles this weekend... I was having so much fun I didn't even realized I'd hit that milestone. I think I'm up to around 230 now -- and that doesn't count the 16 miles' worth of testing pedal-assist ebikes this weekend................ (DUN DUN DUN)

Join us next time when I explain why pedal-assist is NOT, in fact, "cheating."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On the Joy of Trails - or - Why I Will Not Take the City Shortcut Again

When I decided to try bicycle commuting from Silver Spring to downtown DC, the first choice was whether to take the Capital Crescent Trail, or just to make a straight shot down 14th Street into the city core. The trail would take a long time, but it would be safer - no traffic. The straight shot wouldn't be as peaceful, but it would be a lot faster. For the first couple weeks, I made the 12.7-mile hour-long journey around the Capital Crescent Trail. Today, for the first time, I took the direct route: Seven miles straight into town. Even with traffic and stoplights, it only took a little over 40 minutes, effectively cutting my commute time by a third. Instead of lazily wandering my way around the outskirts of town, I went right in there and got 'er done. So, I'll be commuting like this every day, right?


I far prefer the hour-long trail journey, for many, many reasons, presented here in reverse order. I will try to recall them here, but bear in mind I am still woozy from all the bus fumes I inhaled this morning, so I might miss a few.

  • Asshole Cabbies and Ignorant Trucks.

    I really do like the concept of "bike lanes." Even though I'm really no farther from the cars than I would be if they just went around me, that solid white line provides an impregnable mental barrier and gives me the confidence I need to just keep swimming, just keep swimming. At least, that's the theory. All too often it's blocked by a megatruck that's decided to rest a while while the CVS unloads some shipments, or by a reckless taxi driver who thinks "bike lanes" and "passing lanes" are synonymous. Actually it's not just taxis that do this, but they seem to be the most flagrant violator. So sometimes when my path is blocked, I have to move into the traffic lane, but there's no room, so I am just stuck there breathing in fumes, until I decide to just pick my bike up and bring it to over the sidewalk, where I have to walk it past hundreds of people until I can get back onto the road.

  • Metric Fuckton of Hills.

    For some reason, I had the impression that riding from Silver Spring to downtown DC was basically one big hill. After all, Silver Spring is at 340 feet above sea level; DC is basically at sea level. That's 340 feet over 7 miles, or about an 8 percent decline. But it didn't play out like that, ohhh no. Here's the log from today's trip -- be sure to check out the elevation profile at the bottom:

    See that? That's not a smooth slope. That's a series of extended half-pipes culminating with a mega hill at mile 1.5, a minor mega-hill just before mile 2, another at 2.5 and 2.75, then again at 4, until FINALLY we see the big quarter-mile roller coaster drop off just before mile 6. So there's a lot of uphills, which sucks, but it's usually not so bad because uphills have a built-in reward: downhills. But EVEN THE DOWNHILLS ARE NOT FUN, because there are so many Stop Lights and Pedestrians and Weaving Cars and Inattentive Drivers and The Possibility of Danger, that you can't just sit back and enjoy the hills. Which brings me to the main problem...
  • Not Enough "Weeeeeeee!" Time.

    Here's what it comes down to. The only way I am going to ride to work is if it's fun. Dodging traffic and dealing with hills is not fun. It gets me to work faster, sure, but it feels so... utilitarian. I'm getting some exercise, yeah, and I'm getting there about as fast as I would with the metro. But it's not fun. It's not something I seek out. It's not something I dream about.

    I dream about the bike trails. I dream about the long 4-mile gently sloping uphill ride into Bethesda, and more to the point, I dream about the amazing 8-mile downhill into DC. I don't buy bike gear and wake up early and get all suited up to go pedal through traffic; I do it so I can feel the intensity of powering up that long big hill, and the rush of reaching the other side. I do it for that feeling we all get on long steep hills with no cars to dodge and no stop lights to contend with. I do it for the Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

    I dream about the trails because I get to ride to work under a beautiful green canopy, surrounded by nature, passing waterfalls and streams, and when the trail opens up into a view of the Potomac and I've gone over 10 miles and there are only 2 left, I feel satisfied and content and happy. And I'm smiling all the way to work.

    And when I get there, I can't wait to do it again tomorrow.

    Cut 20 minutes off a beautiful journey by shortcutting through a noisy, crowded metropolis?

    Why on earth would I want to do that?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Zen and the Art of Cycling

I am finding cycling to be invigorating, refreshing, relaxing, and therapeutic. The other day I snapped a shot of the Potomac on my ride home from work:

On Saturday I met up with a friend in Bethesda and we rode along the trail together! It was the first time I've ever gone bike riding with someone. :-) Here we are being awesome:

I have admittedly gone kind of wild with the bike-related spending. But it's all in the name of safety, so I'm okay with it. My blinking lights are awesome but I think my favorite item has been the Reflective Dots and Dashes, which I got on clearance at City Sports for $2.86.  Check out my helmet!

Looks like my reflectors work!

This morning I woke up too late to ride to work and by the end of the day I was regretting it. After a long day at work I was so wound up, and I realized how great the hourlong bike ride home felt last week. It's hard, especially on the uphills, but it's also calming. I almost crave it.

Notice that I haven't talked about calories or my heart rate or anything like that. I've just been talking about how fun and relaxing and invigorating it is. Oh, I'm still strapped up and I know I'm burning about 1,000 calories a ride, but that's not what I think about, it's not what I'm focused on. I just want to get back on there and ride some more. It's exercise, but it doesn't feel like exercise. It just feels... awesome.  And THAT is how I know this is going to help me shed some weight.  :-)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Biking to Work Rocks

I rode to work today and it was AWESOME.
I made a trial run on Saturday, checking to see how long it would take, and to see whether the trip back was doable or far too uphill. (Answer: Doable.) This morning I strapped up my heart rate monitor, completely immersed myself in blazing yellow spandex, and set out on the 12-mile arc.
Below is an incredibly cool interactive map of the trip. Go ahead and click the "Speed" and "Heart Rate" check boxes to see them overlaid on the elevation graph. (Isn't that cool!)

In total, the ride took about an hour of actual riding time, six minutes of resting or waiting around at stop lights, and ten minutes of enduring taunts from coworkers when I showed up wearing skin-tight bike shorts. The hour is only about 10-15 minutes longer than it would take for me to take the metro (walking to metro + riding the train + walking to office), and I arrived at work with my exercise already done for the day!
If the calculations are to be believed, I burned over *900 calories* on my ride -- and I felt GREAT when I got to work! Totally energized, and -- after a quick hop in the office shower -- ready to go. (NB: I did need coffee about an hour later.) Over the last couple hours I have felt the slightly odd combination of tired and wired.
I've also been incredibly hungry all day; going forward I'll be sure to have some more protein and slow-digesting carbs before I head out.
I've got choir rehearsal tonight so I plan to leave my bike here, take the metro to work in the morning, and ride back tomorrow evening.
So far, so good.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I went on a 9 mile bike ride on the Capital Crescent Trail and I loved it! 

That is the good news.

It has come to my attention that I am kind of fat.

That is the bad news.

Hopefully, those two pieces of news will take care of themselves. By taking the Capital Crescent Trail about 12 miles to work a few days a week, I hope to have fun AND melt away the pizza pounds at the same time. (NB: This will work better if I stop adding NEW pizza pounds. Believe me, I am trying to work up to that.)

My bike had just been sitting around, gathering dust, ever since it came out of storage 7 months ago. It was leaning up against my bedroom wall and the tires were deflated and it looked very sad. So a couple mornings ago I filled up the tires and rode it a couple times around my apartment's parking lot... seemed sturdy enough... the next day was beautiful and so I decided to see what the trails around here have to offer...


It was a blast!

I was kind of nervous at first, because I haven't ridden in a while, and because the first part of the trail is a packed gravel, which I'm not used to - it's kind of bumpy. But after a few minutes I got the hang of it, and over four miles went by like they were nothing. I rested briefly near a fountain in beautiful downtown Bethesda, took a couple pictures to prove I had been there.

The ride back was even better than the ride out, because I was more comfortable and knew what to expect. In total I rode almost nine miles and I could have gone a lot farther. This bodes well for my 12 mile commute!

I'm thinking that for a while, I can just do the one-way trip there, and then put my bike on the bus rack in the evening. Once I build up my endurance a bit more, then I can tackle 25 mile days (and a somewhat more uphill trail ride going home).

One problem I noticed was that, because I wasn't wearing my wrap-around sunglasses and hadn't taken any allergy medication that day, my eyes became so teary at one point I could barely see!

But once I'm all Zyrtec'd up and wearing sunglasses, I should be fine.

Bike riding is a lot more fun than running, and I reaaaallly hope I can build this into my life.  I've already gone on an Amazon shopping spree for a "SCREAMING YELLOW" windbreaker, a SCREAMING YELLOW pair of bike gloves, some nifty padded bike shorts with SCREAMING YELLOW accents, a bike mirror, and an iPhone holder so I can track speed and distance and all that. Yes, yes, I know, probably overkill, but I like my accoutrements.  :-)

I'll do my next bike ride either Friday evening after work, or on Saturday. The first commute to work is planned for Monday morning. It should take a little over an hour, which may sound like a lot, but it's only about 20 minutes longer than my Metro commute takes normally.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dancing Body Parts

I can make my pecs dance.

The above sentence is part boast and part excuse. I know I've been gone for a while. And this time it's not because of some sort of "good silent period" where I am chugging along. I fell off the wagon. I fell off the wagon, but don't worry, for my fall was cushioned by a pile of stuffed crust meat lovers pizzas. You know how if you overeat for several weeks a row, you can gain something like five pounds? Yeah. That.

But it's okay because I can make my pecs dance!

I realized this the other day when I was trying to imitate a classic scene in which Marge asks Homer if he drinks to escape reality, and he responds by looking in the mirror and jiggling his pectorals while humming the Can Can. I can do that! I won't post video of me doing it, because I may have political aspirations one day, but trust me, it's pretty awesome.

Over the past couple months I have gone through a couple jugs of protein powder. I ate like crap, yes, but according to my napkin math, those two jugs were the equivalent of about 12,000 calories of pure protein. And, other than a 2.5 week period in which I didn't set foot in the gym once (2/21 - 3/8), I have lifted weights hard once or twice a week for the past three months.

It turns out 3 months of weight lifting + 12,000 extra calories of protein powder = a few extra pounds of muscle. You see, my scale measures body fat too, and here's an interesting statistic:

Body Composition
WeightBody Fat %Fat Free MassFat Mass
Oct. 2007207.226.0153.353.9
Mar. 2012212.724.8160.052.7

Over the last 4.5 years, it's true, my weight has gone up over five pounds. But look at the breakdown. My fat free mass (muscle, etc.) is up almost seven pounds! And fat mass is down over a pound. In other words, I haven't really lost much fat, but ALL the weight I have gained in the past 4.5 years is muscle!

This explains why I can wear pants I bought in 2005. And it explains why I can now make my pecs dance.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Good News

Don't worry! Unlike certain BAD periods in the past, three weeks of silence in this case does NOT mean I have given up or fallen off the wagon or anything like that. I have just been busy with my new job.  :-)   Admittedly it is harder to fit a daily workout in when I have to leave for work at 8:30. I have not and never will be a morning person, and so morning workouts are simply out of the question. I've tried them; even when I can force myself out of bed (which is doubtful), I am never awake or energetic enough to get a good workout going.

So I've tried to fit workouts in after work, but it's tricky. I've mostly been getting them in on the weekend. I'm averaging about 2 workouts a week, which is not ideal, but it's better than nothing. My weight is holding steady.

Here's the REALLY GOOD NEWS. I've compared my weight and body fat logs from 4.5 years ago to now, and it turns out that although my weight has gone up 3 pounds, my body fat has actually gone down over one pound! Which means I've lost more than a pound of fat, and gained more than 4 pounds of muscle!

I still have a lot more to lose, especially around the middle, but it's nice to know I haven't completely dropped the ball these past several years. :)

Today's Workout:

  • 36 mins recumbent bike (pulse avg 130-140)
  • Leg Press: 10 reps at 170 lbs, 10 @ 240, 10 @ 290

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Treadmill and crunches = good combo

I wouldn't go so far as to say I've "fallen into a routine," but I've noticed that I tend to naturally follow my treadmill C25K runs with 60-80 Swiss ball crunches. It works out pretty well, and I'm in and out of the gym in less than 45 minutes. And I feel great when I'm done!

I finished Week 3 of C25K today. Less than 60 days now until the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. Honestly I don't know if I'll be up to 10 miles by then. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to handle it from a cardiovascular standpoint, but I'm still just worried about doing too much too soon and getting another stress reaction in my metatarsals, like I did back in aught-nine. But we will see how I feel a couple weeks before the race; if I can't handle it, I'll drop down to the 5K and shoot for 30 minutes.  :-)  (OK, 35 minutes.)

Today's C25K didn't feel quite as easy as a couple days ago -- my body is likely still rebuilding from the 9 mph I threw at it! -- but I did keep the treadmill between 6 and 7.5 mph on the running portions, I didn't have too much tightness, and I felt pretty good overall. It's still hard to believe that in just two weeks I'll theoretically be running 20 minutes without stopping! That's what the program calls for anyway. We'll see if that happens.

I'm not sure exactly how high my pulse got while running, but just after finishing the last 3 minute run it was around 170. Yesterday I ordered a Polar heart rate monitor, so starting with my next run I will be able to monitor my heart rate continuously over the treadmill. I enjoy heart-rate training, as it lets me know quite naturally when I should pull back, and when I can push harder.

My new job starts tomorrow and I am super pumped... it's back to a journalist's life for me! I won't be able to workout tomorrow, and maybe not Friday either, but I will hit it again on the weekend and I'll try to figure out a way to incorporate fitness into my daily routine once I actually have to leave for work every day by 8:30!

(Say what you want about unemployment, but I will miss the lazy mornings and 11 am workouts.)

Here's a picture from today between sets on the Swiss ball! Good runs + good crunches = happy Matt!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

9.0 mph ACTUALLY EXISTS on a treadmill

Tonight, in an attempt to make my cardiovascular system capable of running 10 miles without stopping just two months from now, I flung myself down to the gym, where I set the treadmill to a 1% incline and proceeded to do Week 3 of Couch to 5K.

Here's the news: I started my first running segment (90 seconds) at about 5.8 mph, but I was feeling good and quickly pushed it up to 6.2 mph. Did the second running segment (3 minutes) at 6.5. Third running segment (90 seconds) zipped along fairly easily at 7 mph. Fourth and final running segment (3 minutes) started at 7, but my footfalls weren't keeping up with Aerosmith's beat, so I pushed it up to 8. Now I was barely keeping up with the beat, but I still felt like I could do more...

For the first time in my life, I pushed the treadmill up to 9 mph!

I kept it there for over 30 seconds before my body forced me to pull back. I quickly dropped down to 8, 7, 6, and finished the last 30 seconds with a 5.5 jog.

The key takeaway here is not just I managed run at 9 mph for half a minute and not go shooting off the back of the belt (that's a 6:40/mile pace!), but also that my speeds were generally off the chart the whole time. Except for that part at the end where I really pushed myself... it was all so... easy! When has 7 mph EVER been easy? Sure, I didn't hold it for very long - just 90 seconds - but just a few weeks ago, even holding a 5.5 mph jog for 90 seconds was treacherous. I felt like I was going to die. And today it was EASY!

Is this all just a quick reaction to a bit of applied exercise? Sure that's part of it, but I think there's more: For one, my diet today was pretty clean. I started with a spinach florentine bagel with butter, and coffee. With butter, cream, and sugar, we're probably close to 700 calories. So far not so good, but after that, the next thing I ate was a wild rice mix with grilled chicken breast and sauteed walnuts! It was positively delicious, and probably no more than 600 calories. A few hours later, I had some whole wheat pasta with three turkey hot dogs: 500 calories, perhaps. And throughout the day, I had been partaking of sweet Honeybell oranges. Add 200 calories for the juice and fiber.

All told, before I went out running at 9, I had consumed about 2000 calories for the day, most of them pretty solid grains and protein. My body had no gooey cheese to contend with, no disgusting deep fried BLECH to clog the veins. I was appropriately fueled and my body had rebuilt itself from the last time, and I was ready to go.

(Oh, and due to frequent massages with The Stick, my calves didn't tighten up at all.)

For the first time in years, a really good run! To cap off a really good day. I might just make this 10 Miler after all.


Addendum: Upon reviewing the archives, I am shocked to learn that tonight's experience is about exactly where I was, cardiovascularly, in 2003 -- nine years ago! Take a look at my 2003 description of a treadmill run. I wasn't knowingly using the C25K program, but my method -- run till my pulse hits 170, walk till my pulse hits 130, rinse and repeat -- is essentially exactly what I'm doing now. Wow! This means that I might be in just as good shape as I was when I was 23; I just have a little extra padding around the middle, that's all!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sickness derails fitness: NEWS AT ELEVEN

Ah, January 16. I remember it well. As readers of this blog may recall, I worked out harder than I had in years. I warmed up with 20 minutes on the recumbent bike, then did an intense upper body workout, and THEN did a bunch of running on the treadmill. I got the speed up to 8 mph at one point. I felt exhausted, and amazing.

But there's something I neglected to mention in my last post. You see, while I was running I felt great, but right afterward, I felt a tightness in my chest. It wasn't a heart attack or anything, but it did feel kind of hard to breathe. I've never really had asthma, but it felt kind of like what I thought asthma might feel like. I came home and Googled "exercise-induced asthma." Such a thing exists, so I chalked it up to that, and vowed to take it a little bit easier in the future.

Then, calamity: Over the next week, I got very sick. My main symptoms? Fatigue... and chest congestion. It turns out that while I was KILLING myself at the gym, my body was also trying to fight off a bug that has been going around DC, and which has cleared all the DC-area drug stores of every formulation of Mucinex. By working out so hard, I inadvertently compromised my immune system.

I fell off the wagon. I couldn't exercise, and because I was sick, I decided it was okay to treat myself with some of the foods I love.

When you go to the gym every day, and exercise hard, and eat well, you build up a momentum and it is easy to keep it going. You always have energy and you WANT to exercise! You WANT to eat nutritious foods! You just naturally want to build on success. Your body has no desire to consume pizza and donuts, because it will just make it harder to exercise, and it will undo the very real gains you are making at the gym.

The flip side is also true. Once you fall off the wagon, it's really hard to get back on. The momentum is lost. It sucks, and it's hard to get started again.

And I don't even want to think about how much pizza I've eaten over the last week. And donuts. Ohhh the donuts.

I know what happened, I know what I did wrong, and in the future if I feel myself coming down with something, I will take it really easy until I know I'm in the clear. I've had almost two weeks off, and my diet has been horrible, and the scale reflects that. Now it's time to get back on the wagon. It will be hard for a few days...

But then it will be easy again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hardest Workout in YEARS

I don't have a lot of time because I want to go to sleep, because I am exhausted, because of what I am about to discuss. Today I was at the gym for two hours and I pushed myself harder than I have in years. I started with 20 minutes on the recumbent bike to warm up (getting my pulse up around 150), then did about an hour's worth of upper body resistance training, and THEN to follow that up, I decided to do one of the Couch-to-5K Week 2 programs. This means I was walking for about 15 minutes, interspersed with 9 minutes of running for 90 seconds each. And this wasn't just any running. It went something like this:
  • Walk 5 minutes
  • Run 90 seconds at 5.5 mph
  • Walk 2 minutes
  • Run 90 seconds at 6.0 mph
  • Walk 2 minutes
  • Run 90 seconds at 6.5 mph
  • Walk 2 minutes
  • Run 90 seconds at 6.5 mph with 1% incline
  • Walk 2 minutes
  • Run 90 seconds at 7.2 mph with 1% incline
  • Walk 2 minutes
  • Run 90 seconds at 7.5-8.0 mph with 1% incline
During that last run, when I pushed the treadmill up to 8 mph and held it there for at least a minute before I "dropped it down" to 7.5 (normally "dropping it down" would be to 4.5 or 5!)... just WOW. I felt incredibly invigorated. My arms were pumping. And I absolutely could not have gotten through it without Aerosmith. 

Another cool thing is that I took my pulse right after the final run, and it was just a little over 160. I wasn't even in my top 10% heart rate zone!

And when I learned that, I realized something pretty awesome: I don't know if I'll be able to train myself to run the 10 Miles on April 1st, but I have no doubt I'll at least be able to run the 5K. And not in 42 minutes like 4 years ago, either. I've got 74 days left till the race. I haven't even begun to fight!

Mmm dinner
My food today was equally healthy:

  • Chocolate protein shake and banana (500 cal, 44g protein)
  • Grilled chicken with whole wheat pasta and sauteed peppers (~700 cal, 40g protein) 
  • Vanilla protein shake with skim milk (500 cal, 54g protein)
TOTAL: 1700 calories, 138g protein

I know, that's pretty low calorie-wise, but I just haven't been hungry. Whole grains and slow-digesting protein powder keep me pretty full.

The scale has been hovering around 210 lately but I'm convinced 208 is at my doorstep!

Addendum, 7:50 am - 208.4!!!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Regrets and Rebounds

I did a bad thing. On Sunday night, after eating well all week and losing weight, I decided it would my "Free Day" (a la Body for Life), and I treated myself to a major eating binge. MAJOR. I ate basically a large stuffed crust meat lover's pizza from Pizza Hut, AND an order of cinnamon sticks with extra icing.

It was tasty. I felt like I was getting away with something. I went to sleep, fully intending to get right back on track in the morning.

When I woke up on Monday, I literally felt like I had a hangover. I could feel my body trying to fight all the poison I had fed it. I was dizzy and nauseous and lethargic all day. Even the next day, I still felt out of it. I slowly got back on the healthy eating wagon, but it wasn't until Wednesday that I finally felt like myself again.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I came back to the light. For the last couple days I've been eating clean, and working out hard. On Wednesday I did 20 minutes on the recumbent bike, a bunch of heavy leg presses, and 60 Swiss ball crunches! Today I did week 2 of "Couch to 5K," putting the treadmill on a 1% incline, and toward the end I had pushed my speed up to 7, 7.5, and then 8 mph! My pulse shot up over 180, but I felt great, and I could have kept going, and I could have pushed it even faster. And, even more amazingly, my calves didn't tighten up at all! I have been massaging them regularly, but I was still surprised the tightness has left me so quickly. I haven't run without tightness in years!

I am in love with Syntha-6 protein powder, both chocolate and vanilla flavors (although the vanilla may be a bit too sweet for me -- I'll have to see if I can tone it down: does anyone know how to make something less sweet?). This protein powder keeps me full for so long, that by evening I'll wonder why I am suddenly hungry, and then realize that I've only eaten 1200 calories the whole day!

All told, the pizza-and-cinnasticks incident pushed my weight up by 2.6 pounds, but as suspected, most of that was water weight, and as of this morning I was lower than last week. I am soon to cross the 210 threshold. Next goal: 200. Final goal: 190. Then I'll reassess.

Onward! :-)


Thursday's Food Log:

  • Banana - 100
  • Vanilla protein shake - 200, 22g
  • Grilled chicken, spinach salad, wild rice - 500? 30g?
  • Vanilla protein shake - 400, 44g
  • Banana - 100
  • Orange - 50
  • Glass of chardonnay - 100
  • Whole wheat pasta and chicken breast - 800? 50g?
Total: ~2250 calories, 146g protein

Friday, January 06, 2012

Beautiful night for a walk

Today after work I went to the gym where I used a really nifty machine called the "Vertical Traction" by Technogym. It's kind of like a high-tech lat pulldown machine that really works your arms. I LIKED IT. Unfortunately I had to cut my workout short because I forgot my sneakers, and I looked ridiculous sitting there in shirt, shorts, and... black dress shoes.

So I showered and left to go meet some friends at a pub about 1.5 miles away. I could have taken the Metro, but it was such a beautiful night, I decided to walk!

About halfway there, I realized I was right in front of the White House, and I took a few moments to make several Skype mobile video calls to some somewhat amazed family and friends.

"Who WOULDN'T want to FaceTime with that handsome man?!?" -Ari

I then thoroughly threw away my healthy eating plan for today by sharing a trio of appetizers with friends: Big fried pretzel things, vegetable spring rolls, and grilled chicken skewers (at least there was one healthy option). Oh, and a pint of Strongbow.

My eating choices for today were not that great, mostly because I didn't make my meals last night and I waited until I was hungry before heading out for lunch. But I kept the calories low enough that I won't gain today:

  • Syntha-6 Protein Shake (400 calories, 44g protein)
  • Chipotle burrito: chicken, brown rice, pinto beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa, guac, lettuce (1200 calories, 65g protein)
  • Bar food: Deep fried pretzel thing (~300), chicken skewer (~100 / 15g), veggie spring roll (~150), Strongbow 20 oz (230): (~800 calories, 15g protein)
TOTAL: ~2400 calories, 124g protein

Definitely not what I would call "healthy," but perfectly adequate for a resistance-training Friday. And I have to have some fun sometime or else I won't be able to stick to a mostly-healthy eating plan for the rest of my life! (...eek, it sounds scary when I put it like that).

Tomorrow I'm meeting a friend for lunch at a deli about a mile away, and I've already decided that if the weather isn't too bad, I'm walking. My friend Josh lost a TON of weight by walking all over Boston (and watching what he ate). I can too!

The smallest belt hole!

Today I noticed that my pants were loose so I went to adjust my belt, and it turns out I only had one belt hole left! Now I am on the smallest one and that just feels so awesome. And look at the awesome graph! It looks like this "Calories In < Calories Out" thing really works!

Food Log

  • Syntha 6 (400 calories, 44 grams protein)
  • Chicken, rice, quinoa (~600 cal, 30g)
  • Subway 6" turkey melt (400, 25g)
  • Chicken and barley soup (160, 14g)
  • Two sticks of string cheese (160, 16g)
Total: 1720 calories, 129 grams of protein

I'm not purposely starving myself, I swear. That protein drink just keeps me SO full, and by pre-emptively eating just before I get hungry, I am basically never hungry at all and don't get any cravings! 

I'll probably get hungrier once I'm exercising regularly -- things are really tight right now with rehearsals every night, but after Saturday the 14th my rehearsal schedule will drop down to ONE PER WEEK. I am sincerely looking forward to having almost every other evening free. It's time to take care of Me.

PS - I just noticed how many exclamation points I used in this post. Please accept my humble apologies.